Posted on June 12, 2017 at 1:39 am
They finally got a DC Comics superhero movie right. While Marvel/Disney has managed to turn out a series of top-quality films that managed to achieve a range of vividly individual tones for the different characters and yet keep everyone in the same infinity stone universe, DC/Warners has stumbled, most recently with the ponderous and murky “Batman vs. Superman.” A comic book movie can have serious themes, but it has to be fun. DC managed that for television, but not for the big screen – until “Wonder Woman,” which hits the superhero sweet spot between new and familiar, funny and exciting, romantic and heroic.
Credit goes to director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg for making a smart, entertaining film about the character created by the fascinating William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-trained lawyer/psychiatrist, feminist, and inventor of the lie detector.
There’s a bit of a slow start with an unnecessary origin story. Young Diana the only child on the island of Themyscira, populated by women warriors. She wants to study combat with her aunt, the fierce General Antiope (Robin Wright), but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to keep her safe.
It is Diana’s destiny to fight, however. When handsome and dashing WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down near the island, Diana rescues him. Wrapped in the Wonder Woman version of the lie detector, the golden lasso, he explains that he is an American spy, working undercover, and that he has discovered a terrible weapon that the Germans will use to wipe out thousands, even millions of people, poison gas. Diana (Gal Gadot), convinced that only the Greek god of war, Ares, could be responsible for such chaos and catastrophe, and that if she leaves the island, she can find him, kill him, and restore to humanity the peace they were created for.
We are used to origin stories where an ordinary person has superpowers unexpectedly thrust upon him (almost always him), whether he is bitten by a radioactive spider, arrives from a planet with a red sun, or gets hit with gamma rays. It is always fun to see them learn what they can do. We get a bit of that here with an obligatory training montage showing Diana riding horses and developing her hand-to-hand combat skills. We get the obligatory “you have greater powers than you know.”
But what is refreshing in this film is that what comes as a surprise to her is not what she can do but what the rest of the world has to offer. Trevor is the first male human she has ever seen — and she sees all of him when he gets out of the bathing pool, though it is his watch, and not his body, that she finds surprising. When she leaves the island, everything is new to her — WWI-era London, a baby, the idea of marriage, clothing that may be fashionable but impedes movement.
Gadot, a veteran of the Israeli army has a warmth on screen that shines through her increasing engagement with the human world and her ferocious determination in battle. She and Pine have an engaging spark with some old movie-style repartee and sizzling glances. The movie, shot on film, not digital, has a lovely old-school glow as well. The action scenes are exciting and vibrant with character, not just about the stunts.
We have seen a lot of WWII on screen but not much of the Great War. WWI introduced one of the most terrible weapons in human history, a weapon so devastating and uncontrollable that it has been banned ever since. “Wonder Woman” wisely grounds this story in that moment, with poison gas being developed by the Germans, led by chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya, unfortunately perpetuating the comic book cliché of disfigured villains) and an officer named Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who has a juicily evil moment involving a gas mask.
If the “Justice League” trailer at the beginning does not give you a hint that somehow Diana will still be around in the 21st century, bookend scenes set in the present day (involving a delivery from Wayne Industries) alert you that her WWI experience is just the beginning. I have some problems with a turning point for Diana in he final confrontation that is disappointingly retro. Aside from these concerns, this film is cheeringly robust, vibrant, and exciting, worthy of the Amazon warrior and the early feminist who created her.
Parents should know that this film includes extended wartime and comic book violence, characters injured and killed including civilians and children, some disturbing and graphic images, some sexual references and mild sexual situation, drinking and drugs.
Family discussion: Why didn’t Diana’s mother tell her the truth? Why did Sir Patrick send Steve and Diana on the mission?
If you like this, try: the Wonder Woman comics and the book about the creator of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore